When you visit the Phoenix Arizona area, a trip to the Desert Botanical Garden must be on your list of things to do. Whether you just want to marvel at the giant Saguaros or attend an exciting outdoor concert, the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) will have something great for you to do. There are 5 themed trails to wander and signature events throughout the year to attend.

Desert Botanical Garden

There are five distinct areas to explore. Photo courtesy DBG

About the Desert Botanical Garden

In the 1930s, a small group of local desert lovers saw the need to conserve the beautiful environment. One was Swedish botanist Gustaf Starck, who found like-minded residents by posting a sign that said “Save the desert,” with an arrow pointing to his home.

Desert Botanical Garden

Blooming aloe plant at the Desert Botanical Garden. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

More than seven decades later the Desert Botanical Garden has blossomed into a living museum unlike any other. Covering 140 acres in the red rock dotted Papago Park, DBG is now the largest botanical garden in the Southwest. I was surprised to find out that the Garden features 55,000 plants from across the world.

A Morning at the Desert Botanical Garden

In the desert, even in early spring, morning is the best time to explore. By 10 a.m. things are beginning to heat up. Fortunately, DBG opens early. Hours are 8 a.m. to8 p.m. October through April, and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. May through September. I was enjoying a luxurious stay at the beautiful Scottsdale Resort at McCormick  Ranch and so didn’t get going quite that early. By nine I was on the road for the short drive over to the Desert Botanical Garden. It was a weekday. Parking was easy to find and there were no lines at the ticket office.

It had been over ten years since I had visited Phoenix. As I walked up to the entrance I stopped to marvel at the agave-like green spires created by glass artist Dale Chihuly. I had the privilege of meeting the artist when he oversaw the installation of his glass art throughout the garden. The spires remain as a tribute to the beauty of the event.

Desert Botanical Garden

Chihuly glass spires greet visitors at the entrance to the Garden. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Once I entered I saw a huge colorful head, this season’s art installation. The bold, colorful and monumental work of artist Jun Kaneko brought spots of color and whimsy to the garden, an added benefit of wandering the trails.

Desert Botanical Garden

Wandering into the Garden, I encountered large colorful Jun Kaneko sculptures. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

I was thrilled to find that the annual Spring Butterfly Exhibit was just opening. Anticipating the fluttering beauty of the butterflies, I took the path that would lead me through flowering gardens to the netted butterfly building. Volunteers were stationed there to both inform visitors and make sure we didn’t let any butterflies out as we entered and exited. While the exhibit was fun and, yes, I did see butterflies, many were not yet awake. They wait until the sun warms the plants inside. So perhaps afternoon is the best time to visit.

Desert Botanical Garden

Seasonally, the Garden puts up a huge butterfly enclosure where you can enjoy live butterflies and their favorite plants. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

I headed out on yet another trail to see the Cactus and Succulent Galleries. The plants from all over the world are fascinating.

Desert Botanical Garden

Some cacti flower for only a day. You are lucky if you can capture a shot like this! Photo courtesy Adam Rodriguez, DBG

I noticed they were setting up for a special event in the garden, part of the annually award-winning Devour Phoenix Culinary Classic. One of the benefits of desert living is enjoying the beauty of outdoor dining and festivities.

Desert Botanical Garden

It's not just cacti at the Garden. Enjoy wildflowers and flowering bushes. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

After walking the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail, I was ready for a break and some water. And, of course, DBG had anticipated my needs. While there were frequent water stations and shady spots, I was surprised to see chairs set out in scenic little garden nooks in The Center for Desert Living Trail by the Herb Garden. I relaxed for awhile enjoying the fantasy that this could be my front patio.

Desert Botanical Garden

Enjoy shaded areas to rest and reflect as you wander. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Dining at the Desert Botanical Garden

With all that wandering and photographing, visitors can work up an appetite. Gertrude’s Restaurant, with farm to table cuisine, is located just inside the gate to the garden. With offerings for both light appetites and hungry visitors and a full bar, Gertrude’s is a likely place to rest and enjoy after a morning at DBG.

Desert Botanical Garden

Gertrude's Restaurant. Photo courtesy: Adam Rodriguez, DBG

For a more casual experience, check out the Patio Café 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, October through May. And, no, you can’t bring your own picnic into the Garden.

Events to Enjoy

Evening events provide a magical experience at the Desert Botanical Garden. In March, sip tequilas as you walk through the lighted garden during the cool Agave on the Rocks, listen to music and enjoy concerts.

Desert Botanical Garden

Agave on the Rocks. Photo courtesy: DBG

You can even experience a performance of Ballet Arizona. At holiday times the garden paths are lighted by flickering luminarias during Las Noches de las Luminarias.

When You Visit The Desert Botanical Garden

Wandering alone is fun but if it’s your first time to visit the Garden, consider a docent-led tour. Free tours are led daily October 1 – May 14. Check the Cohn Tour Gathering Area for times. There are also docent stations throughout the garden where expert docents answer your questions about cacti, mesquite, agave, birds, and many other topics.  One thing you’ll notice as you wander… the Phoenix community loves the Garden. Many locals volunteer and many support the Desert Botanical Garden financially. It is a living, growing organization just like the beautiful desert land it occupies.

Desert Botanical Garden

Docent information stations help you learn as you wander. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

If you are not used to the desert, be sure and dress comfortably, wear a hat, use sunscreen and carry water. Pace yourself and take advantage of the garden’s shaded benches.

Entrance fees are well worth it. Adult: $24.95, Youth $12.95 (3 – 17), Children under 3 are admitted free. Be sure and read the “Tips for Visitors” for hours and early closure dates.

Pets and therapy animals are not allowed in the Garden. Service dogs or miniature horses only (yes miniature horses can serve as service animals!) If you would like to bring your dog to the Garden, visit Dogs' Day in the Garden. And, of course, don’t leave a pet in your car during your visit.

Desert Botanical Garden
1201 N. Galvin Parkway
Phoenix, AZ 85008

Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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